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Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me [Hardcover]

Jon Katz
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After a half-dozen books about the dogs and other animals that live with him on Bedlam Farm in upstate New York (Dog Days, A Good Dog, Katz on Dogs), Katz's gentle, folksy style and intuitive connection to the world around him work a familiar but comforting vein, entirely suitable to his subject: "I cherish the considered predictability of these creatures, their sociability, their contented acceptance of life. I wish I possessed even one of those traits. I'm working on it." The latest features his adoption of Izzy, a sensitive border collie who inspires Katz to take up volunteer work with hospice patients. Whether meeting Timmy, a young boy dying of brain tumor, or Glen, a terminal patient who recollects his own beloved dog, Katz evokes vividly the hospice environment and the deep meaning its patients find in Izzy. Unfortunately, the balance of the book, concerning a black lab named Lenore and Katz's own struggle with depression and a painful past, suffers from a lack of detail and leaves little impact. Fans will be happy to return to the farm, but newcomers may want to start with his first dog volume, 2002's A Dog Year. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Praise for Jon Katz

“With wisdom and grace, [Katz] unlocks the canine soul and the complicated wonders that lie within and offers powerful insights to anyone who has ever struggled with, and loved, a troubled animal.”
–John Grogan, author of Marley & Me

“Katz’s world–of animals and humans and their combined generosity of spirit–is a place you’re glad you’ve been.”
–The Boston Globe

“One of our most talented and perceptive canine chroniclers.”
–AKC Gazette

Dog Days

“There’s no denying that Jon Katz writes engagingly about animals. . . . Anyone who has ever loved an animal, who owns a farm or even dreams of it, will read Dog Days with appreciation and a cathartic lump in his or her throat.”
–The Washington Post Book World

“Katz proves himself a Thoreau for modern times as he ponders the relationships between man and animals, humanity and nature, and the particularly smelly qualities of manure.”
–Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“The perfect summer book . . . You will not be disappointed.”
–The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Thoroughly enchanting.”
–The Dallas Morning News

About the Author

Jon Katz has written eighteen books–six novels and twelve works of nonfiction–including A Dog Year, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, A Good Dog, and the New York Times bestseller Dog Days. A two-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, he writes columns about dogs and rural life for the online magazine Slate, and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, and the AKC Gazette. Katz is also a photographer, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and co-host of the award-winning radio show Dog Talk on Northeast Public Radio. He lives on Bedlam Farm in upstate New York with his wife, Paula Span, and his dogs, sheep, steers and cows, goats, donkeys, barn cats, irritable rooster, Winston, and three hens.

www.bedlamfarm.com
www.photosbyjonkatz.com

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

CHAPTER THREE

Izzy Katz, Volunteer

The county health department was housed in a small wooden annex in run-down Fort Edward, near the county jail. I parked the Blazer and opened the rear door for Izzy, who disembarked, sniffed around, then paused to look at me, awaiting instructions.

“This way, boy,” I said, and he trotted along next to me toward the annex, ignoring a dog being walked nearby, a number of trucks and cars in motion, other people walking through the parking lot.

At the door, he walked inside, scanned the half dozen people in the meeting room, and headed straight for Keith Mann, a muscular, bald man in a polo shirt emblazoned with the Washington County logo. Keith was running the series of hospice volunteer training sessions, held in the annex over several weeks.

Izzy sat down in front of Keith and put his nose in his hand. Keith handed us our name tags, as if it were perfectly ordinary to have trainees with either two legs or four. One said: “Izzy Katz, Volunteer.”
This training would test both of us. I had a book coming out, so I was about to start an extended tour. Insanely busy running the farm, I was already harried and drained, struggling to find time to write.

Besides, hospice work was no simple undertaking. The training alone was thorough and demanding, involving considerable role-playing, reading, and memorizing. The volunteer’s handbook weighed a good three pounds.

As a former police reporter, I’d seen plenty of bodies, but I’d rarely known anything about the people who died. Here, I would be going into homes and nursing facilities, getting to know people who were failing, getting to know their families, too–and ultimately seeing them die. How would I handle that? Could I do a good job, or would it be one of those projects I sometimes took on obsessively and then, exhausted, had to drop?

I’d gone back and forth about making this commitment. I didn’t want to start something I couldn’t finish, yet I was learning the hard way how unpredictable and cluttered my life had become.

At first, I’d thought that my busy schedule, complete with book tour, might cause the program to cut me some slack. Could I really drive three nights a week, for several weeks, to Fort Edward?

But it was clear, as Keith explained the volunteer training to me, that there would be no slack, no shortcuts–and that there shouldn’t be. The hospice program needed to make quite sure that the people who entered patients’ homes, where the psychological and physical issues were often intense, knew what they were doing and could handle what they encountered.

Accordingly, our training involved talks with social workers, doctors, and other volunteers, field trips to the homes of patients, quizzes–and constant monitoring by hospice staff, alert for weaknesses or problems that might arise. I found my motives questioned again and again. I actually had to defend my desire to enlist.

Keith was a skilled instructor, adhering strictly to his orientation and lesson plans–but he also kept a sharp eye on the volunteers to see how we reacted.

From the outset, at least one volunteer paid rapt attention. Izzy sat staring at Keith throughout nearly the entire session. Sometimes, I did look down to see Izzy dozing. But usually he was locked onto Keith, as if listening intently to every word. I half expected him to take notes.

When we took a break, Izzy followed me outside, where he found a bush to mark, then came back in and approached each of the other volunteers, putting his nose in their laps or on their knees. If they responded, he stayed a while. If they didn’t, he moved on. Keith always brought a biscuit or two, so Izzy made sure to visit him during the break.

Several things struck me during our early training. Izzy seemed to have an innate sense of appropriateness. He never disrupted the talks or meetings by barking, whining, or even moving much. He understood that the breaks were a time for socializing but the rest of the session was work.
Six other volunteers were going through the training with us, all arrayed around a conference table, listening to lectures, watching slides, talking about our own lives and our abilities to enter other people’s. Through it all, Izzy sat by my side or, often, at Keith’s feet, taking it all in.

In a sense, hospice training challenges volunteers to go against the grain of what we ordinarily think of as support, concern, and affection. Normally, if I see people in distress, I try to reassure them, to tell them things will get better, that they’re doing fine.

Hospice training teaches you to do the very opposite. In hospice, the ending will always be the same: The patient will not recover; there will be no eleventh-hour happy ending.

Reassurances and conventional wisdoms can’t really help the dying or those who love them. Each person, family or friend, will experience death in their own intensely personal way, and I have no tonics for them, no words of cheer. I must leave my own experiences, perceptions, and responses at the door and permit them to face and experience death in whatever way they choose. My role is to listen, and help only in the ways that I’m asked to. It’s an extraordinarily sensitive situation.

Yet the work seems so crucial. Hospice workers often talk about the mistreatment of the dying, by which they mean not cruelty but the natural human tendency to shun death, to avoid the dying and retreat from even thoughts or discussions about it.

Hospice families tell me all the time about the pain of having friends stop calling or visiting, of seeing them turn away from them at the supermarket, simply flee in the face of death’s awesome finality.
So we leave them, often quite alone, to their fates, to the struggles with our health-care system, to a culture too busy and distracted–or uncomfortable–to pay much attention.

The last thing these people need is some well-meaning volunteer who attempts to cheer them up, offer suggestions on how to die, or tell them how to grieve. All we can do is provide some companionship and comfort along the way. It’s a humbling mission.

To bring a dog into these homes seemed an even greater challenge. Patients are often in emotional or physical distress, hooked up to oxygen or IVs, and taking potent medications.

Lots of dogs do therapy work, but hospice requires something a dog really can’t be trained to do–figure out for himself how to be loving, appropriate, and sensitive to the dying.

To be a hospice dog, Izzy had to be tested by a vet, who issued a certificate attesting to his temperament. I did considerable calming training, praising him for being calm, practicing moving around furniture and other obstacles. We tried him out in several strangers’ homes and in a nursing home with a PA system and lots of medical equipment around. And, of course, he attended all our training sessions, where nurses and social workers were watching him carefully.

But the truth was, I had no clear idea how to prepare Izzy. His own instincts and personality, I thought, would prove more critical than any training in determining whether he could do this work. All I could do was bring him along, into patients’ homes and lives, and see what he could offer.

All through the spring and summer, we trekked to Fort Edward, with a sandwich and fruit in a paper bag for me and a few biscuits for Izzy. Keith kept a water bowl in the annex kitchen for him. The volunteers were an extraordinarily generous group of people who seemed quite willing to accept us both, and Izzy was happy to see each of them at every session.

I was daunted at first, by the detailed thoroughness of the training, though I would soon enough be grateful for it. We practiced what to say, what to look for, how to listen. We learned to fill out forms and reports. There was a long list of things to avoid saying–like “Buck up! You’ll be okay!” The sessions were wearying, but also gratifying. By the time they concluded, I felt ready.

I can’t say I know for certain why I wanted to sign up. Perhaps weathering middle age makes one more aware of death, more thoughtful about it. Perhaps, as my work life intensified, I wanted to make sure I had a grounding, a meaningful commitment to help me see life in perspective, to keep my spiritual self alive. Maybe I wanted see if there was a way to share this work with a dog. Maybe all of the above.
While we were learning, it was hard to avoid the sense that Keith and the social workers were watching us pretty carefully. Whatever our reasons for coming, we volunteers had to talk about them. Stan had just lost his dad. Rita had lost her husband a few years earlier, down South. Donna, it emerged– slowly–had also lost someone, though she hadn’t said whom.

On the surface, direct experience with grief would seem a perfect qualification for hospice volunteers, but the staff pointed out that it could also be a problem. We had to set our own losses aside, not add to the sorrow the patients and their loved ones already felt.

Donna and I were paired for role-playing during the second week of training. She was a kindly woman, quietly but deeply religious, and eager to help others. “What better way,” she asked, “than to help people leave the world comfortably, with dignity?”

In this exercise, one of us played the volunteer; the other pretended to be a person who had lost someone dear. I drew the volunteer role, which meant my job was to listen, to affirm the feelings I was hearing, not challenge them or add my own or try to change anyone’s mind.

Donna, playing the family member, sat opposite me and said she had a sick child, a son dying of leukemia. It was horrible, she said softly, to watch her son suffer, wither...
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